Michael Bublé was embarrassed to discover just how egotistical he’d become as he nursed his boy Noah back to health. Now he’s got his mojo back, he tells Chrissy Iley
In an incredibly revealing interview, the singer describes how his son’s cancer diagnosis has left him a changed man
Michael Bublé knows better than most that fate does not stand aside and wave the famous through. The Canadian singer has won four Grammys and sold 75 million records, earning him some £35 million a year. He’s been married to stunning Argentinian model and actress Luisana Lopilato for seven years, and the couple live a life of luxury with their three children, sons Noah, five, and Elias, two, and daughter Vida Amber Betty, who’s just 11 weeks old. Yet all of this seemed meaningless when Noah was diagnosed with liver cancer two years ago, and the devastated couple immediately announced they were putting their careers on hold to care for their son.
Noah has now been declared cancerfree and today Michael is looking suave and slim when we meet in his London hotel suite. He has a new album out, Love – but it’s one that he admits now might never have been made. He’s very emotional. His brown eyes well up at the mere mention of the C word, and it’s clear he’s still living in the shadow o f wh a t he describes as two years of hell. ‘You just want to die,’ he says. ‘I don’t even know how I was breathing. My wife was the same and even though I was the stronger of the two of us, I wasn’t strong. My wife was... I’m sorry, I can’t make it to the end of the sentence... let’s just say we find out who we are with these things. Going through this with Noah, I didn’t question who I was, I just questioned everything else. Why are we here? Is this all there is? Because if this is all there is, there has to be something bigger.’
He says that one way he got through it was to pretend he was Roberto Benigni’s character from Life Is Beautiful. The 1997 film was set in a concentration camp and the way Benigni’s character, Guido, and his son coped was to make a joke of everything. ‘I don’t know if that was a choice, but that’s who I became,’ he says. ‘For instance, I never called it the hospital, I called it the fun hotel. And every day I got extra bedsheets and I’d build a tent for Noah. I just made the best of it. Survival.
‘It’s been such a difficult exercise. It hurts me, and it hurts to talk about Noah because it’s not my story to tell, it’s his. But my whole being’s changed. My perception of life. I don’t know if I can even get through this conversation without crying. And I’ve never lost control of my emotions in public.’
Michael likes to be in control and doesn’t feel comfortable crying. His heroes are the macho singers of the 50s and 60s like Frank Sinatra and Bobby Darin. As a teenager he’d take his bible to bed, praying that one day he’d emulate them. ‘In a weird way talking about it is therapy for me,’ he says. ‘I actually thought I’d never come back to the music business. I never fell out of love with music, I just needed to put it aside. What was hard was going to the store to buy hot dogs and toilet paper, going to the gas station. Going for a walk by the sea to clear my head. Everyone recognises me and says, “How’s your son?” When you think you’re close to getting over it you’re sucked right back into it. But at the same time I was given faith in humanity. The media helped me, they weren’t disrespectful. And in those two years my record company never asked me what the plan was. They said, “We love you and we’re praying for you.”’
I was all set to interview Michael not long after Noah was diagnosed, as he was due to host the 2017 Brit Awards, but the interview was cancelled when he pulled out. ‘I had no interest in my career and I’m grateful I could afford to take time out,’ he says. ‘I spent a good deal of time with people who weren’t so lucky. When this terrible news came in I realised I wasn’t having fun in the music business. I’d lost the joy and at some point just before the Brits I was starting to lose the plot. I’d become desperate to hold onto something I thought I might be losing, and I thought I had to do something special to keep it. I’d started to do things out of my comfort zone, like presenting, and the truth is it had been a while since I’d been having fun. I’d started to worry about ticket sales for my tours, what the critics said, what the perception of me might be.’
He grabs the net voile from behind the curtain and puts it over his face. ‘I felt like I was living with this over my face and the reality I was seeing was blurred by it. But the diagnosis made me realise how stupid I’d been to wor ry about these unimportant things. I was embarrassed by my ego, that it had allowed this insecurity. And I decided I’d never read my name again in print, never read a review, and I never have. I decided I’d never use social media again, and I never have.
‘I realised that for many years I
‘I don’t know if I can get through this without crying’
couldn’t believe I was on the same stage as my heroes, that I was sharing a microphone with Tony Bennett or [Canadian pianist and singer] Diana Krall. I couldn’t believe I was looking across at someone like Paul McCartney, and I’d be saying things like, “It’s hard to get here, but my God it’s harder to stay here.” But then I woke up and thought, “After ten years of trying to get here and five years of being scared it would go away, I think I can enjoy it.”’
It seems that his son’s illness ignited this realisation that he’d become fixated on his own success. ‘I don’t have the stomach for it any more,’ he says. ‘The celebrity narcissism. I started to crumble. But then I started to wonder why I wanted to do this in the first place. I’d forgotten that it’s about souls connecting, because I’d become so anxious. There were people in my business life saying, “If you hadn’t done this or that, or you’d written a better song, tickets might be selling quicker.” I started to take all that on board. No one wanted to take any responsibility. It was much easier for people to pass the buck to me because I was insecure enough already. I would digest it and say, “It’s my fault. I’m absolutely rubbish.” It affected me and I started to think, “It’s all going to go. I’m going to lose everything.”
‘I was insecure. I’d been learning from my heroes for so many years, but even though I was learning with passion I was afraid I’d become a mere poor-quality photocopy of my heroes. But when I came back from this terrible time I realised I’m not a mere photocopy. I’ve learned everything I can from them, taken it and found it in my own soul, my own voice, my own style and now no critic can take that away. It needed clarifying. Now I’m just singing the music I love. Maybe when you let go, maybe that’s when it comes back to you. Like love.’
Michael is overjoyed that he has a family of five now. Everything changed for him when his three-year relationship with his former girlfriend, the Golden Globe-nominated Devil Wears Prada actress Emily Blunt, fell apart. He blamed himself for the break-up and went into therapy. He bought selfhelp books, readdressed his eating habits (he has a tendency to put on weight if he isn’t careful) and started going to the gym. He was still getting over Emily when he spotted Luisana after performing a show in Buenos Aires. They met again at a party and he told her, ‘You’re my wife, you just don’t know it yet. I’m going to come back and marry you.’ A year went by with them exchanging emails, and as he told me when we last met in 2011, ‘I was mad crazy for her. I went and asked her father’s permission to marry her and we had a big, beautiful wedding.’
When he learned Noah was in remission, the joy returned to Michael’s world. Is that when the urge to make music again hit him? ‘The two are inextricably linked, yet it wasn’t as straightforward as, “My son’s recovered, I should make an album,”’ he explains. ‘I’d told my manager I wanted to take a ten-year sabbatical, so I could hang out and be bad. But I missed the guys in my band. So once when Luisana had to go back to Argentina I said to them, “Come over to the house, let’s drink, order pizza, play video games and jam.” They came over, we partied and we said, “Let’s play some music.” I thought, “Wow! This is fun.”’
He takes out his phone and shows me videos of his friends jamming in his house, playing the various songs that ended up being the new album. ‘It was then that I realised I’d missed making music. I didn’t even know I’d missed it. This was about a year ago.’
He’s starting to perk up now, and when his spirits lift he laughs easily and likes to make everyone around him laugh. As we chat he flits between accents – we go from Liverpool to Texas via India and South Africa, and finally to his version of a London accent, which he says he loves. He’s been working with James Corden on a Carpool Karaoke special for the Stand Up To Cancer fundraising campaign and likes the way Corden speaks. ‘ We watch The Gruffalo movie about five times a day because my kids love it, and James Corden is the voice of the little brown mouse, so he’s in my house “all the day”, as my little boy would say.’
He pauses. ‘There are three reasons I wanted to do this album,’ he says. ‘One, because I felt a debt of gratitude, deeper than I can explain, to the millions of people all over the world who prayed for us and showed us compassion. That gave me faith in humanity. Two, because I love music and feel I can continue the legacy of my idols. And three, because if the world was ending – not just my own personal hell but watching the political turmoil in America and watching Europe break up – there’s never a better time for music.’
Then suddenly he stops. ‘This is my last interview,’ he says quite solemnly. ‘I’m retiring from the business. I’ve made the perfect record and now I can leave at the very top.’
Somehow, though, I don’t think he really means it.
Michael’s album Love will be released on 16 November. To make a donation to Stand Up To Cancer, please visit channel4.com/su2c.
‘I can’t do the celebrity narcissism any more’
With his wife Luisana Lopilato
Michael with son Noah in 2015, the year before he fell ill